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Freedom of expression and association under threat in Burundi, warns UN expert

1 December 2008

GENEVA --The Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi, Mr. Akich Okola, expresses his deep concern over the deteriorating situation of freedom of expression and association currently prevailing in Burundi.

“The Government must restore a calm political climate and take all necessary measures to end the harassment and intimidation of journalists and representatives of civil society, trade unions and political parties,” said Mr. Okola. “It should also proceed without delay with the release of all persons detained for having expressed their opinions.”

Several journalists and representatives of civil society and trade unions and political opponents have in recent weeks become victims of intimidation and harassment while exercising these fundamental rights.

Some of them, including the editor of Net Press, the Vice-President of the staff union for non-judicial personnel serving in the judiciary and the head of the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD), are currently in detention on accusations of threatening state security, defamation or slandering the head of state.

“Such developments pose an obstacle to the firm rooting of the rule of law, peace and security in Burundi, and in the entire region,” said Mr. Okola.

“These developments are particularly worrying in the context of the approaching elections in 2010, which must not only meet internationally recognized standards of being free and fair, but must be seen to be so,” warned the Independent Expert. “Such standards will not be met if freedom of expression and association are not observed.”

Burundi is obliged –recalls Mr. Okola- to guarantee freedom of expression and association by virtue of the Constitution of Burundi and the international human rights instruments ratified by it, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Independent Expert takes note that the situation of human rights in Burundi will be examined during the 3rd session of the Universal Periodic Review on 2 and 4 December 2008 and encourages its Government to report on the measures taken to ensure respect for freedom of expression and association and to take the opportunity of this review to further strengthen its commitment to promotion and protection of human rights.

The Independent Expert visited Burundi from 28 June to 12 July 2008 and presented its last report to the 9th session of the Human Rights Council on 22 September 2008. In his report he noted the deterioration of the overall human rights situation in Burundi and made a number of recommendations to the Government of Burundi and the international community.